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United Kingdom

Tourism unaffected and lots of jobs -- Good economics for Scotland

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One of the most frequent claims against the wind industry -- that wind farms have an adverse impact on tourism -- has apparently been laid to rest according to research commissioned by the Scottish government. Some 75% of tourists surveyed in Scotland felt that wind farms had a positive or neutral effect on the landscape -- and 97% said wind farms would not affect their decision to visit Scotland again.

The study, Economic Impacts of Wind Farms on Scottish Tourism, sought opinions on 11 structures in the landscape. Of these, the 25% negative response to wind farms was the fourth highest behind pylons (49%), mobile phone masts (36%) and power stations (26%). Overseas visitors were more positive about wind farms than domestic tourists and respondents that had seen a wind farm were less hostile than those who had not. The study found that extensive wind farm developments would reduce revenue growth by around 0.18% of tourist spending by 2015. This equates to £7.6 million of expenditure by tourists against a current total expenditure in Scotland of £4.2 billion.

The Scottish government has adopted targets for growth of both wind power and tourism. It wants to generate 50% of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2020 and grow tourism revenues by 50% up to 2015. "This research confirms that this government's ambitious targets on renewable energy and tourism are entirely compatible," says enterprise, energy and tourism minister Jim Mather. "It provides further evidence to support our approach to progress the right developments in the right location."

From Scottish Renewables, Jason Ormiston comments that any losses to the Scottish economy through the impact on tourism would be minimal and would be more than offset by establishing a renewables industry in Scotland. "By 2020, the Scottish renewables industry will be worth billions, whereas this report says, on a high development, total visibility scenario, that the Scottish tourism industry will contribute £4.7 million less than it otherwise would have done to the Scottish economy if renewable electricity targets are delivered," he states.

British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) chairman Adam Bruce adds: "This is quite simply excellent news for the Scottish economy and environment. It shows that the purported adverse effect of wind farms on tourism is simply a myth. It also shows something that the BWEA has been saying all along: benefits of wind power outweigh the costs, by a very large margin."

Not all interpretations of the study share his view. Headlines about the research in the two major Scottish newspapers demonstrate contrasting opinions of the study's findings. While The Herald carried the story under the banner "Wind farms won't put tourists off," The Scotsman led with the headline: "Wind farms could drive away tourists and mean big job losses."

The study was carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University of four areas where tourism is important to the local economy and where wind farms are operating or planned: Caithness & Sutherland; Stirling, Perth & Kinross; The Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

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